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ISSUE 11.48
Nov. 30, 2012

RECENT ISSUES:
9/19 | 9/12 | 9/05 | 8/29

Index

News :
S.C. road solution "under construction"
Legislative Agenda :
Two big meetings on tap
Radar Screen :
Dig those heels
Palmetto Politics :
Hacking scandal blossoms anew
Commentary :
Charleston trying to hoodwink state on I-526
Spotlight :
The South Carolina Education Association
Feedback :
Richland delegation, not county, at fault in election mess
Scorecard :
Up for Powerball; down on ethics
Stegelin :
Hooray! (kind of)
Megaphone :
Department of Revenge
Tally Sheet :
Senate sets dates for prefiled legislation
Encyclopedia :
Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston

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NUMBER OF THE WEEK

$25,000.00

That’s how much money a double-password program would have cost the state that would have protected the state Department of Revenue’s database from being hacked recently, state senators learned in special meetings this week. More.

MEGAPHONE

Department of Revenge

"This administration has allowed a tax to be placed on every single one of us for the rest of our lives, man, woman and child. A tax requiring us to pay, ourselves, to monitor our credit and financial information for the remainder of our lives."

-- State Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden), railing this week against the response the hacking of state Department of Revenue income tax information by Gov. Nikki Haley, whom he ran against for governor two years ago. Haley’s administration cracked back, saying Sheheen himself had never used the term “cyber-security” before this incident. More.

"This could've been prevented by an inexpensive technology. I almost fell out of my chair.”

-- State Sen. Kevin Bryant (R-Anderson), chairing a Senate panel looking into the cyber attack on the state Department of Revenue’s income tax records, responding to the information that a $25,000 program could have prevented the electronic heist. More.

TALLY SHEET

Senate sets dates for prefiled legislation

The State Senate has set two dates for prefiling of legislation for the 2013 session:  Dec. 13 and Dec. 18

As earlier reported, the House of Representatives will hold an organizational session on Dec. 4 and 5, and will accept prefiled bills on Dec. 11 and Dec. 18
If you want to look at legislation from the 2012 session, you can follow these links:

ENCYCLOPEDIA

Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston

Overlooking the Cooper River north of Charleston, Magnolia Cemetery was established in 1850. An excellent example of the rural cemeteries then popular in mid-nineteenth-century America, it followed the example of such cemeteries as Mount Auburn near Boston, Laurel Hill near Philadelphia, and Green-Wood near New York City.

Magnolia Cemetery, described at its dedication as a “spot most precious to the musing hour,” was designed by the Charleston architect Edward C. Jones. It features family plots surrounded by stone coping or cast-iron fences; winding streets and paths with cast-iron benches; ornamental trees and shrubs such as magnolias, live oaks, cedars, and hollies; a small lake; and a vista of the marsh and the nearby river. Gravestones include marble or granite tablets, ledgers, box-tombs, tomb-tables, obelisks, and pedestal-tombs, as well as several prominent mausoleums.

Among the most striking monuments are the Elbert P. Jones Monument (1853), designed by the architect Francis D. Lee; the Vanderhorst Mausoleum (1856), an elaborate Egyptian-revival structure; the Colonel William Washington Monument (1858), designed by the architect Edward Brickell White and sculpted by William T. White and featuring a fluted column with a rattlesnake coiled around it; and the Defenders of Charleston Monument (1882), the focal point of the Confederate section.

The cemetery also features many fine examples of work by the White brothers of Charleston—William, Edwin, and Robert—perhaps the most prolific and accomplished stonecutters of nineteenth-century South Carolina. Their stones, often cut from imported Italian marble, are notable for their distinctive lettering and remarkably detailed carving.

Some of the prominent South Carolinians buried here include the antebellum industrialist William Gregg, the U.S. senator and secessionist Robert Barnwell Rhett, the author and poet William Gilmore Simms, the merchant and secretary of the Confederate States Treasury George Alfred Trenholm, and Confederate generals James Conner, Micah Jenkins, Arthur M. Manigault, and Roswell S. Ripley.

Captain Horace L. Hunley and the second crew of the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley are also interred in Magnolia Cemetery.

-- Excerpted from the entry by J. Tracy Power. To read more about this or 2,000 other entries about South Carolina, check out The South Carolina Encyclopedia by USC Press. (Information used by permission.)

PALMETTO PRIORITIES

Palmetto Priorities Statehouse Report encourages state leaders to develop and implement Palmetto Priorities involving several issues to make the state better a better place. Click the link to learn more about our suggestions for bipartisan policy objectives.

Here is a summary of our Palmetto Priorities:

CORRECTIONS: Reduce the prison population by 25 percent by 2020.

EDUCATION: Cut the state's dropout rate in half by 2020.

ELECTIONS: Increase voter registration to 75 percent by 2015.

ENVIRONMENT: Adopt a state energy policy that requires energy producers to generate 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

ETHICS: Overhaul state ethics laws.

HEALTH CARE: Ensure affordable and accessible health care.

JOBS: Develop a Cabinet-level post to add, retain 10,000 small business jobs per year.

POLITICS: Have a vigorous two- or multi-party political system of governance.

ROADS: Strengthen all bridges and upgrade state roads by 2015.

SAFETY: Cut the state's violent crime rate by one-third by 2016.

TAX REFORM: Remove outdated special interest sales tax exemptions as part of an overall reform of the state's tax structure to be completed by 2014.

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News

S.C. road solution "under construction"

Groups, legislators struggle to solve crumbling infrastructure

By Bill Davis, senior editor

NOV. 30, 2012 – If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the path to solving the state’s roadway problems may be splayed with political wrangling.

South Carolina has the fifth largest road system in the nation with more 41,000 state-maintained highway miles. The state Department of Transportation gets $448 million in funding this year from gas and other special fuel-related taxes.

The DOT, which gets no other funding from the state’s General Fund, is also responsible for a laundry list of other maintenance nightmares, such as 8,360 bridges, 550,000 traffic signs, 115,000 miles of ditches, and 5,639 traffic signals and flashers.

According to “Getting to Good,” a presentation that state Department of Transportation Secretary Robert J. St. Onge made around the state earlier this year, it will take an one-time infusion of $340 million to get all of the state’s interstates to good quality and an additional $440 million to get primary roadways up to a similar level. Additionally, there’s hundreds of millions of dollars needed to widen lanes and reduce congestion on interstates throughout the state.

According to the presentation, it will take $35 million and $90 million annually to maintain the state’s interstate and primary roadways, respectively.

That’s a lot of cheese. The question becomes, how to pay for it all?

On the same page

Rick Todd, president of the S.C. Trucking Association, said his organization is not against an increase in the state’s gas tax, one of the lowest in the nation, despite the direct economic effect it would have on his organization’s members.

Looking down the road, Todd said it was more important to have more good quality roads that could handle larger vehicles as the state’s economy continues to recover. Improvement to interstates, roads and bridges, Todd said, would increase business across the state.

Nationally, President Barack Obama seems to agree with Todd, assigning big chunks of his stimulus packages for infrastructure for a long-term national economic rebound.              

Quoting state documents, Todd said South Carolina currently has 927 structurally deficient bridges, six closed for safety reasons, and 410 with weight restrictions.

Todd said he and other “user groups” that depend on highway and road transportation are all on the same page with the idea of having to pay higher taxes if that is what it means to make roadways safer and more reliable. According to state and other reports, a one-cent increase in the state gas tax would result in roughly $28 million a year. 

South Carolina’s gas tax currently is 16.75 cents per gallon. Raising it by 15 cents a gallon to bring it in line with neighbors Georgia and North Carolina would generate some $420 million -- every year -- to help with much-needed maintenance and congestion improvements. Right now, officials say the state road system’s needs are in the billions.

S.C. Chamber of Commerce head Otis Rawl said his organization will give the legislature a laundry list of roadway improvements it would like to see tackled, but won’t advocate how the money is raised, or re-allocated.

But Todd stressed, it’s not really up to the business community to decide how the money is found. He said that the legislature, with all of its partisan politics, will have to come up with a fiscal solution, be it raising taxes or setting aside money like it did for harbor deepening in Charleston.

No new taxes

State Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Bonneau), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, was quick with where the money is not going to come from:

“There will be no gas tax increase,” said Grooms, who said that user groups like Todd’s had been pushing the idea for the better part of a decade. “But they keep coming up empty.”

Grooms, known for his limited government stances, argued this time that building and maintaining roadways are a key and crucial core mission of government.

As such, Grooms said he plans to introduce a bill when the next legislative session opens that will set aside 5 percent of the state’s General Fund budget to go to DOT in addition to the hundreds of millions the agency already gets from gas taxes. His bill also includes “trigger mechanisms” that will reduce the amount over five years if the state’s economy remains moribund.

Crystal ball: The big worry across the state is that South Carolina will need to have a bridge disaster like the one that hit Minnesota five years ago before anything substantive is done to address the state’s ailing infrastructure. This is one of those crucial issues that needs to be tackled sooner than later, especially with lane widening needed along the I-26 corridor to take advantage of coming state port improvements there. If state government – from the DOT to the governor to the legislature - doesn’t get this right, then South Carolina will miss an opportunity to protect its citizens and significantly grow its economy.

Bill Davis is editor of Statehouse Report.  He can be reached at:  bill@statehousereport.com.

Legislative Agenda

Two big meetings on tap

There are two major state meetings next week:

  • Transportation. A joint committee will hold a public hearing Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in 308 Gressette, in which citizens can testify as to the qualifications of five different individuals up for appointment to the state Department of Transportation Commission. Agenda.

  • PURC. The joint State Regulation of Public Utilities Review Committee will meet Thursday at 10 a.m. in 105 Gressette. Agenda.

Radar Screen

Dig those heels

State Medicaid czar Tony Keck, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, was reminded in a state Senate panel this week that the legislature will decide whether the state takes part in federal health care reform and state Medicaid expansion, not his boss, Gov. Nikki Haley. Those doing the reminding were Democrats, which will likely mean come the new legislative session, a fight between Gov. Nikki Haley and Democrats, with Republican legislators weighing in.

Palmetto Politics

Hacking scandal blossoms anew

This week, Gov. Nikki Haley at a press conference for the first time accepted personal responsibility for the massive cyberhacking attack on records at the state Department of Revenue, one her cabinet agencies. The hacking compromised the records of 3.8 million residents, 700,000 businesses, and it was recently revealed, 1.9 million dependents going back to 1998.

Haley earlier this month tried to assign some of the blame on the federal IRS, saying in a letter that it should have done a better job with enforcing states to encrypt its tax records. Now, Haley said, she should have known better and pushed for better answers and practices within her own agencies.

But with the revelation this week that the cyber-security post at the Department of Revenue had gone unfilled in nearly a year, Haley’s mea culpa has come too late for many. Her critics, who now include fellow Republicans, are asking for an independent audit and a sharper understanding of how criminal proceedings will take place once the culprit is identified.

In addition to lawsuits filed against the state, Haley’s administration may soon find its back further up against the wall as reporting update deadlines are looming as to whom exactly had their records compromised.

Commentary

Charleston trying to hoodwink state on I-526

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher

NOV. 30, 2012 -- People across the Palmetto State ought to be just plain mad at how some folks in Charleston are trying to railroad state highway dollars for the area’s selfish use.

At issue: Interstate 526 and its long-anticipated extension.

The 19-mile road currently forms a semi-circle around Charleston from U.S. Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant through North Charleston and to U.S. Highway 17 in West Ashley. As originally envisioned, the road was to continue through Johns and James islands to connect at the James Island Expressway at Folly Road. But because the Interstate has been built in segments, the final seven-mile section never was built.

Over the last few years, the project has been bounced around more than a tennis ball. 

In 2004, Charleston County voters approved a half-cent transportation sales tax. Officials used some proceeds as a potential local match to apply to the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) for millions of state tax dollars to complete the highway, which the SIB approved in June 2006. A year later, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) and Charleston County signed an agreement for the DOT to manage the project.

But then with a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by the DOT, things started to go wrong. In 2009, the DOT presented six road proposals. The preferred alternative ended up being a $489 million, four-lane parkway with traffic lights and speeds limited to 35 mph to 45 mph. At five public hearings, speakers overwhelmingly opposed the project.

In April 2011, Charleston County Council said no to the road’s completion, despite a questionable threat that it would owe $11 million for work up to that point. In January 2012, the SIB reassigned responsibility to the DOT. But throwing a wrench into everything, the DOT board voted in September to not take the project, now projected to cost $558 million, and instead sent it back to the county. 

So it’s dead, right? Nope. In November, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley strong-armed city council to try to get the project sponsorship moved from the county to the city. And now, Riley, House Speaker Bobby Harrell, a host of Chamber of Commerce types and big money are putting the full-court press on Charleston County Council to let the city take over the project -- despite the fact that no city reportedly ever has completed an Interstate.

  • Despite the fact that with deals being quietly cut to add overpasses and potentially reduce neighborhood impacts on Johns and James islands, the road would cost much more than $558 million.

  • Despite the fact that the state DOT does not believe 1-526’s completion is of statewide significance since it hasn’t ranked its completion as a statewide priority and the project is only 15th in the Charleston area road priority list.

  • Despite the fact that reductions in travel times -- a major argument by supporters -- are not projected to be significant. The draft EIS suggests reductions from 34 seconds up to 5.6 minutes. The Environmental Protection Agency also says claims of safety improvements did not justify environmental or community impacts of the road.

  • Despite the fact that a federal agency says hurricane evacuation -- also used as a reason for completion by supporters -- should not be considered as part of the rationale because initial increased mobility would be counteracted by more development (leading to more cars).

  • And despite the fact that the state Department of Natural Resources recommended no action because of environmental impacts identified in the draft EIS. 

Bottom line: Regardless of all of the political arm-twisting in the world, extending Interstate 526 isn’t a state priority and won’t relieve congestion significantly. It will negatively impact the environment and destroy historic communities. Lots of alternatives exist to improving traffic flow without building expensive new bridges and parkways so that rich folks on Kiawah and Seabrook islands can get to Costco five minutes quicker. 

Quite frankly, the $558 million in state dollars targeted to this Charleston road can be much better used across the state to fix ailing bridges, potholed roads and bottlenecks that need attention. Charleston County Council will decided Dec. 13 on what to do next. Let members know how you feel about the tom-foolery of state dollars being funneled into this Charleston pet project.

Andy Brack, publisher of Statehouse Report, lives in Charleston.  You can reach Brack at: brack@statehousereport.com.

Spotlight

The South Carolina Education Association

The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week's spotlighted underwriter is The South Carolina Education Association (The SCEA), the professional association for educators in South Carolina. Educators from pre-K to 12th grade comprise The SCEA. The SCEA is the leading advocate for educational change in South Carolina. Educators in South Carolina look to The SCEA for assistance in every aspect of their professional life. From career planning as a student to retirement assessment as a career teacher, The SCEA offers assistance, guidance, and inspiration for educators. Learn more: TheSCEA.org.
Feedback

Richland delegation, not county, at fault in election mess

To the editor:

I believe your Thumbs Down [Scorecard, 11/23] should have read "Richland County Delegation," not "Richland County."  The delegation wrote the special legislation, the delegation picked the person, and the delegation owns this screw up, not the county.  

The only thing the county had to do was fund this and they did so at the level requested by the delegation's hand-picked minion.  This was clearly a state delegation mess from Day 1 and not a county issue.

-- Steve Willis, Lancaster, S.C.

Send us your thoughts.  We love hearing from our readers and encourage you to share your opinions.  But you've got to provide us with contact information so we can verify your letters. Letters to the editor are published weekly. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

We generally publish all comments about South Carolina politics or policy issues, unless they are libelous or unnecessarily inflammatory. One submission is allowed per month. Submission of a comment grants permission to us to reprint. Comments are limited to 250 words or less.  Please include your name and contact information.

Scorecard

Up for Powerball; down on ethics

Powerball. South Carolinians won close to $5.3 million by playing the Powerball lottery, with one resident winning at least $1 million. More.

DSS. Responding to statewide concerns, the Legislative Audit Council will investigate the state Department of Social Services, a cabinet agency, to see how it is protecting children through its various programs. More.

Ethics. Only 10 people attended a public meeting by the S.C. Commission on Ethics Reform, which was convened by Gov. Nikki Haley. More.

Mitchell. State Rep. Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, pleaded guilty this week to failing to file tax returns for two years and was given a suspended three-year sentence. He will keep his seat in the House. More.

Stegelin

Hooray! (kind of)


Also from Stegelin:  11/23 | 11/16 | 11/9 | 11/2
credits

Statehouse Report

Editor and Publisher: Andy Brack
Senior Editor: Bill Davis
Contributing Photographer: Michael Kaynard

Phone: 843.670.3996

© 2002 - 2014 , Statehouse Report LLC. Statehouse Report is published every Friday by Statehouse Report LLC, PO Box 22261, Charleston, SC 29413.
Excerpts from The South Carolina Encyclopedia are published with permission and copyrighted 2006 by the Humanities Council SC. Excerpts were edited by Walter Edgar and published by the University of South Carolina Press. Statehouse Report has partnered with USC Press to provide readers with this interesting weekly historical excerpt about the state. Republication is not allowed. For additional information about Statehouse Report, including information on underwriting, go to http://www.statehousereport.com/.